MLB Trade Deadline: Top 10 Reasons LA Angels Must Make a Deal by July 31
In the baseball world, this is shark week.
With just days to go, the best teams in the league are looking to get bigger, stronger and faster as they tear away the meatiest portions of their weaker counterparts.
Blockbuster deals have already been made. Countless more have been proposed, reworked and cast aside. Moves are coming faster than reporters can cover them, and rumors are flying at dizzying speeds,
Predators in the hunt for a playoff spot are even more aggressive this year, and there are more of them than ever before with the addition of a second Wild Card slot in each league.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are among those hungry predators, but new General Manager Jerry Dipoto is discovering just how fierce his competition is. He told one reporter he’s working hard to get a deal done, but so far Dipoto has little more than big fish tales to tell.
The favorite phrase of Dipoto’s predecessors in the Angels front office was, “You don’t make a trade just to make a trade.” True enough. But if Dipoto does not do something – and soon – the Angels will be eaten alive by their competitors.
Here are the top nine reasons the Angels must make a trade this week.
The starting rotation was supposed to be the foundation upon which a championship season would be built. It was perhaps among the greatest ever assembled.
But injuries and subpar performances have driven the Angels to seek help outside the organization.
Jered Weaver had a career year in 2011 and, after a brief stint on the disabled list, is right back to putting up those numbers again. C.J. Wilson has been better than advertised, making his second straight All-Star team along with Weaver and showing that he might be one of the few players in baseball worth more than his already-enormous contract.
Beyond those two, it’s been a total crap shoot.
Dan Haren has been erratic most of the season. He looks good for two or three starts, then gets rocked. Some of that worry may have been alleviated after he made his first solid start since coming off the DL this month, but the Angels don’t have time to wait and see if he has rebounded fully.
Ervin Santana probably wishes he could be just erratic. His performance this year is downright woeful. Next to him, Haren is a Cy Young candidate. In fact, Santana is so hopeless as this point, his name has actually been linked to some trade rumors as a throw-in to help balance out money issues. Ouch.
At the back end of the rotation, Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams are putting up nearly identical years at complete opposite ends of their pitching careers. Williams is starting to reach the end of his shelf life, and Richards doesn’t quite look ready to be full-time Major Leaguer.
This is not the rotation the Angels were hoping for, and Dipoto is running out of time to wait and see if the ship can right itself. More talented starting pitchers are being put on the trade block than in recent years, but the glut is already starting to thin out.
Cole Hamels re-upped with the Phillies. Annibal Sanchez is the newest Detroit Tiger. Zack Greinke, James Shields and Josh Johnson are the biggest fish left in the sea, but if the deals already made this year are any indication, these guys won’t be out there for long.
If the starting pitching was a little shaky this season, the bullpen was a 9.5 on the Richter Scale.
Jordan Walden nearly broke Fernando Rodney’s prior record for quickest demotion from the closer’s role, and the idea of “middle relief” was laughable for the first two months of the season.
This was one area, however, that Dipoto could not wait until the trade deadline to address. He quickly brought in Ernesto Frieri from the San Diego Padres, a move that may go down as the best trade of the year. Frieri has been sensational, pitching more than 13 innings before allowing his first hit as an Angel and more than 26 innings before allowing a run.
Scott Downs has also done his share to patch up the leaky relief corps. He’s worked as a situational lefty and an eighth-inning setup man, and occasionally even closes games. Between him and Frieri, the Angels have their best one-two punch out of the bullpen since Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez.
It’s the rest of the relievers who still need work. Walden, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen and Kevin Jepsen have all had up-and-down seasons, and none is a guy you give the ball to with a great deal of confidence..
Hisanori Takahashi, the only lefty besides Downs, has struggled like mad against left-handed hitters. Rookie David Carpenter, like most rookies, has his challenges to work through.
Like starting pitching, the relief market this year is unusually crowded this year with a lot of big names and small ERAs. Every arm from Rodriguez to Jonathan Broxton, Grant Balfour and Matt Capps can be obtained for the right price.
Dipoto has made it known he’s interested in left-handed relievers, so look for the Angels to check out the Royals’ Jose Mijares while he’s in town this week. But just as with the starting rotation, Dipoto cannot hope for the perfect deal to fall in his lap. If he’s going to act, he must do it quickly.
The Angels have two of the most dynamic offensive players in the majors, and that’s not even counting Albert Pujols, the centerpiece of their Christmas shopping spree last December.
And yet, as is all too often the case, this team still finds ways to leave men in scoring position.
Pujols got off to the worst start of his career, prompting fans to boo, the Angels to lose 14 of their first 20 games and Dipoto to fire longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. Since then, he has rebounded and propelled the Angels into a wild-card spot—with a little help from his supporting cast.
Okay, a lot of help. Like, league-leading help.
Mark Trumbo is blossoming into a premiere slugger, belting Titanic home runs as easily in pressure situations as he does during batting practice. Of his 27 home runs, 15 have either tied the game or put the Angels ahead in games. He also boasts a much-improved . 354 on-base percentage and an AL-best .612 slugging percentage.
Of course, if you want to look at league-leaders, look no further than Mike Trout. The future Rookie of the Year, AL batting champion, MVP, Hall of Famer, President of the United States and first man to set foot on Mars has done everything for the Angels this year except literally carry them on his back.
And he could probably do that too.
But, much like the bullpen, it is the rest of the lineup that is giving the Angels so much grief. Trumbo, who also leads the league in longest average distance on his home runs, can put a ball on the roof of the Honda Center if he muscles one up, but if there is no one on base in front of him, it still only counts as one run.
Table-setters like Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis haven’t quite worked themselves into a comfortable groove, while presumptive game-changers like Howie Kendrick and Peter Bourjos have been displaced in the lineup or lost their starting jobs altogether.
If the Angels hope to keep pace with the Rangers, or even hold their ground in the wild-card standings, the offense has to improve. Dipoto could divert his attention from the hotly contested pitching market and swing a surprise deal for a bat in the coming days.
And speaking of the Rangers...
To be the man, you’ve got beat the man. For the third year in a row, the Texas Rangers are the man in the AL West. And it’s clear they are not settling for another division title.
The Rangers, and their fans, have had their hearts broken in the World Series in back-to-back seasons, most notably twice coming within one strike of the franchise’s first championship last year only to see it slip through their fingers and fall to the St. Louis Cardinals.
They were then forced to sit back and watch as the baseball world clamored over the Angels after the Albert Pujols and C.J.Wilson signings, with many calling LA the next champs of 2012 before the calendar had even flipped.
It’s hard to claim that a team coming off consecutive World Series appearances has anything to prove, but the Rangers just might. The bitter taste of defeat and the chronic little-brother syndrome that plagues them is forcing the two-time American League Champions to build upon their already rock-solid base.
Every potential trade chip the Angels pursue, the Rangers are right there keeping pace. Whether it’s Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels or James Shields, the two AL West foes are always mentioned right alongside one another.
If the Angels have any aspirations of living up to their World Series hype, they cannot afford to let any deals the Rangers make put them too far ahead.
The Rangers are not the only threat in the AL West this year. Billy Beane’s ragtag bunch of A’s in Oakland are the hottest team in baseball, winners of 10 of their last 11 games and tied with the Angels atop the wild-card standings.
Like all successful squads under Beane, this one starts and ends with pitching. The A’s managed to trade away Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and somehow improve both their starting staff and bullpen.
Even through injuries to guys like Dallas Braden, Tyson Ross and Brandon McCarthy, the A’s continue to be a ready source of young, cheap and spectacular pitching talent.
Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Ryan Cook aren’t exactly household names around the country, but they are singing their praises in Oakland. If the A’s manage to find themselves in the playoffs this year, those names will be given the national attention they rightly deserve.
Beane is now on the hunt for fresh offensive talent to back his pitching staff. The A’s were previously rumored to be a potential landing spot for shortstop Hanley Ramirez, but the Dodgers thwarted their plans. Still, Oakland is on the rise and will not be hosting their annual deadline fire sale.
With the Angels treading water since the All-Star break, the A’s are looking to take advantage and quietly reclaim their place among the best in the West.
The Angels are fighting an intra-divisional war, and the action is on two fronts. Both Texas and Oakland are forces to be reckoned with, and Dipoto must take advantage of this, his last chance to stay relevant in the AL West.
Battle for Los Angeles
Speaking of relevancy, the Angels may not be in contention with the cross-town rival Los Angeles Dodgers in the standings, but the two teams are certainly locking horns in the financial arena.
Television ratings, merchandise revenue and tickets sales drive this particular off-field rivalry. In the offseason, the Angels announced their presence in the Southern California with authority when they stole Pujols and the spotlight that follows him away from the National League, and potentially the Dodgers.
They were able to stage such a coup in part because of a new megadeal with Fox Sports that is expected to bring in billions in new revenue.
That, along with the Dodgers’ various public embarrassments and limited funds due to ownership issues, all helped Angels owner Arte Moreno place a shining halo neatly over the southland.
That is, until the season started. The Dodgers became a surprise NL darling, a new ownership group with L.A. legend Magic Johnson at the forefront took over, and Dodger blue slowly crept back into fashion.
Now, fresh off a blockbuster deal for shortstop Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers are poised to make additional moves and fortify their standing as one the NL’s top playoff contenders.
The Angels, without an impact move of their own, risk languishing in both the AL West and the SoCal market.
Strike While the Iron, and the Prospects, Are Hot
Someone in the game once said the primary purpose of any minor league team is to provide its Major League counterpart with trade depth.
If that is true, then it should also be noted that trade depth has a shelf life.
The Angels do not have the depth in their farm system that they used to. Between trades, call-ups and just plain guys not good enough to make it, the list of tradeable minor league prospects has shrunk significantly in recent years.
However, that’s not say there aren’t movable parts to be found. Dipoto showed both a keen eye and a sound resolve when he pegged Alexi Amarista as the centerpiece to entice the Padres into giving up Frieri.
Catcher Hank Conger, infielder Jean Segura and outfielder Cole Kalhoun may also find themselves quickly and unceremoniously placed on the trading block.
This is a particularly true for Segura, who is blocked at the Major League level by Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, both of whom signed four-year extensions this spring.
Minor leaguers have the allure of “potential” to the other team in any trade negotiation. The risk is that “potential” has a rapid half-life and the longer that prospect lingers in the minors, the more likely he is to bring an exponentially lower rate of return.
Take Brandon Wood. Please.
That is what the Angels should have told teams two years ago, when his stock was highest and he had done all he could in the minors. The Angels, meanwhile, had given Wood several looks with the big club and seen what he had to offer: nothing.
Instead, they chose to make Wood the starting third baseman in 2010, and though his glove was decent, his bat was nowhere near Major League-caliber. It was nowhere near the ball either.
By the time Scioscia and the rest of the Halo brass figured it out, Wood lost his starting job and any hint of the trade value he once had.
The Angels aren’t exactly rich in tradeable prospects. They might not even be considered middle class. But they have enough to get by, so long as Dipoto spends his players wisely.
Angels: The Happiest Franchise on Earth?
An important item to remember about trade deadline acquisitions, and indeed all player moves a general manager makes, is that it is as much about the player being acquired at the time as it is those who become available in the future.
It’s about maintaining a winning atmosphere, staying viable as a franchise. It’s about giving players a reason to want to come to Anaheim as free agents or to wave their no-trade clauses.
For proof, look no further than the strange course this trade season has taken.
Carlos Lee, perhaps the first big piece to be moved, mulled over a deal to the Dodgers for days. He ultimately spurned the boys in blue and chose the Miami Marlins instead.
He preferred a frustratingly bad franchise from top to bottom that is now in the middle of a wholesale rebuilding phase over a playoff contender in sunny Southern California.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster has the exact opposite mindset. The Cubs were all set to put the chop on Dempster and send him to the Atlanta Braves before the pitcher invoked his no-trade rights, saying he’d rather go to the Dodgers.
In order to have the ability to swing the kind of trades they want in the future, the Angels have to show players they are willing to do what it takes to stay competitive. And that means putting together title contenders whenever feasible.
Making a move this week is not all about contending with other teams for the Angels.
Sure, the Rangers, A’s and Dodgers are all threats in their own ways. But as great or greater a threat is that of mediocrity. The threat of becoming just another team.
That is what the Angels were for many years, arguably until their World Series victory in 2002. It was only then that attendance shot up and fans turned out in droves to support someone other than the Yankees or Red Sox when they were in town.
The Angels have drawn over three million fans every year since 2003 and are expected to reach that mark again this year. They averaged over 40,000 in attendance every year from 2004-2010.
In 2011, in the midst of another disappointing season and another playoffs missed, attendance dropped below the 40,000 mark for the first time seven years.
This year, average attendance is down again, hovering just above 37,000 through the first 48 home games. The additions of Pujols and Wilson were expected to correct that trend. Tying a franchise record for worst 20-game start to a season didn’t help.
Winning, as they say in sports, cures all ills. If the Angels find themselves in a knockdown, drag-out battle for the division title or wild-card spot—or both—then the fans will return.
To do that, Dipoto will need to make a move this week. He’s shown a willingness to bring in winning talent with the Angels, and he didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and send Dan Haren to Anaheim when he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ front office.
Now is the time for Dipoto to take this team from a fringe contender to a legitimate, to restore faith to the Angels faithful.